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Category: Travel

Best of 2015

Now that 2015 has come to an end, I thought it was time to reflect on the best (and worst) places I tried in 2015. I’m keeping this list to Chicago, though everyone knows some of the best food I’ve had this year was in Austin.

Avec

Other than an extensive cocktail menu, Avec has it all. It’s perfect for dinner, brunch, and a relatively quick and reasonably priced lunch. They also feature an amazing Friends of Avec brunch series one Sunday a month and, of course, the chorizo stuffed bacon wrapped dates that sabotaged my pescetarianism of 5 years.

Kai Zan

PIF and I try to live by the rule that we should only eat dinner out when it’s something we can’t make at home. Kai Zan, more than anything else in Chicago, fits that description. Simply put, it is the best sushi in Chicago and a lesson that some things are worth the money.

Tanta

Amazing cocktails (we recommend El Chingon) and delicious, unique food. Also a favorite for family dinners, especially if yours is as loud as mine.

The Betty

My favorite bar in Chicago. What can I say? I love gin & tonics and not having strained vocal cords at the end of a night out.

Beatrix

Quick, healthy, and on the way to the Loop, Beatrix tops the list of best places to get breakfast before work.

Pub Royale

Tired of omelets and waffles? This brunch is for you.

Whole Foods 5 for 5

Every Friday at the DePaul location, you can get 5 glasses of wine and five small plates for $5. And, if you keep your glass and bring it back in the future, you can get it all for $4. Perfect after a long week of work and for those on a budget.

Embeya

Unfortunately, we only got in here for lunch this year. But Embeya is truly a gem. During our short visit before the office noticed I was missing, we had 4 dishes, all of which were amazing, learned all about the interior décor (which is to die for) and even got the recipe to their green papaya salad dressing.

The Cliché Locations We Tried and Loved

The Aviary

Think a $20 cocktail isn’t worth it? Trust me. It’s worth it.

Alinea

As young 20-somethings ooing and aweing, we probably stuck out like sore thumbs. But unlike many gourmet restaurants, Alinea didn’t make us feel as though we were any different than the high rollers across the way (well, besides that they got a special menu). The sommelier, who is absolutely wonderful, even informed us that we’re welcome to share the wine pairing on our next visit.

Topolobampo

Surprisingly hearty portions. Brightly colored food. A brilliant sommelier. Topolo is unpretentious, completely unique, and downright fun gourmet.

Nico Osteria

Great ambiance, wonderful for a celebratory dinner. Prepare to shell out, though.

Cindy’s

Got tourists? Hit up Cindy’s on the rooftop of the Chicago Athletic Association for brunch or drinks.

The Disappointments

Blackbird

We came for Prix Fixe lunch, but even so, Blackbird was a bit boring and a bit salty.

Naha

I met my dad and his client here for lunch. She’s Brazilian, so they arrived about 30 minutes late for a 1 o’clock reservation when lunch service ends at 2. However, the way Naha rushed us (I’m talking three servers standing nearby and staring as we ate) was frankly unprofessional and deeply uncomfortable. Especially for the Michelin stars and the price tag. That said, the food was worth a re-do, once I get over the pain of the bill we paid for such an awkward meal.

The Office

I get it. I’m on a budget and not ordering $150 glasses of green chartreuse (as much as I wanted to!) nor can I afford the $300 white truffle risotto like the group of bankers nearby. But don’t make me more conscious of this fact than I already am! You don’t know what my future holds! (or is it that obvious…)

The Wiener’s Circle

I summed up my feelings earlier this year in a Yelp post and do not want to exert further energy on this hellhole.

Overeasy Cafe

HORRIBLE and enough to make me renounce Yelp FOREVER! Taste like hospital food even though it looks good. DON’T BE FOOLED!

New Rebozo

I’m still not over the worst $50 I ever spent. Good thing I invested in oil.

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Austin City Limits 2015

It literally took me a full week to mentally digest, reassess, and prepare this post about our trip to Austin, Texas for Austin City Limits Music Festival (ACL).

If there’s one thing PIF and I love nearly as much as food, it’s music, and Weekend 2 of ACL could not have been more perfectly designed for us. I survived high school in part by listening to Modest Mouse and meanwhile, PIF has been listening to one of his favorite artists, Deadmau5, for 10 years (I know, lots of mice up in here — my dad has already made that joke).

Both Modest Mouse and Deadmau5 were playing during Weekend 2, and, if it couldn’t get any more perfect, Modest Mouse was the set right before Deadmau5 on the exact same stage. We’d never seen Modest Mouse together, but when PIF and I saw Deadmau5 together for the first time nearly a year ago, it was a night that *cliche alert* changed our lives — or at least our relationship (though I suppose they are one in the same). Deadmau5 was also doing an after-show, and we had gotten tickets to that so we’d be able to see his DJ set in a smaller venue. For these reasons alone, plus the chance to eat all we could in a new and fabulous food city, this was set to be a really special weekend.

Austin far exceeded our expectations.

When we reluctantly had to return home, we left agreeing that the best thing about Austin is that the food scene is so wonderfully creative. And I’m not just talking about the high-end, Michelin-starred, famously avant garde restaurants. Even the most affordable little cafes — nay, even the food stalls at the festival — were doing things we had never seen before.

Here are some of the highlights:

// Vox Table //

Smoked Hamachi Pipettes
 

As tasty as they are pretty and interesting – You slide all the speared goodies off with your teeth and then shoot the sauce inside the pipette into your mouth. 

Braised Akaushi Oxtail
We couldn’t resist – oxtail isn’t something you come by often. And this oxtail was so perfectly cooked, it literally melted in your mouth. And the little potato pillows were fantastic as well. 

 

// Odd Duck //

Raisin toast, pork belly, pb&j, fried egg, blue cheese, tomato jam
 

 

This dish shouldn’t work. But it does. Oh, but it does. PIF and I ate in stunned silence. Buttery pork belly with all the other fixings – this dish was gluttony incarnated. And yet, because it was somehow perfectly balanced, it was surprisingly light.
 
Hot & Crunchy – Avocado
Photo via Instagram by @thesimplesol
 
Everywhere we looked people were carrying tortilla-wrapped fried goodness stuck inside a cone cup that looks like something you pull from a water cooler. We finally got ourselves one and immediately regretted not getting these at the fest all weekend. Huge chunks of fried avocado, topped with all sorts of goodies, wrapped in a beautifully fresh tortilla and stuck in a paper cone that allows eaters to keep their hands clean! Brilliant! 
(Side note: The Mighty Cone is the reason I developed a cardinal rule of music festivals — only buy food from stalls that have a food truck. Why? They know how to either prepare food in a small space or know how to prep food that had to be transported.)

Chile Spiked Watermelon 
Photo via Instagram by @acleats
 
It was f*ing hot, we were probably dehydrated, and since we hadn’t yet discovered The Mighty Cone, we didn’t want to risk spending $10 on a shitty taco and the lines for smoothies and ice cream were about 100 people long. And that’s when I saw him. A man carrying a giant wedge of watermelon, covered in a deep red powder, walking away from a stall with a line only a few people long. We walked triumphantly past the hoards waiting for ice cream, because just from the smell of it, we knew this was going to be good. At it was. The only pit fall? Big hunks of juicy watermelon covered in red dust is really, really messy. Which is why I’ve adapted it to this much more white-shirt-friendly version:

 

Chile Spiked Watermelon (clean version)

Ingredients 
(per 2 cups watermelon)
 
watermelon
zest & juice from 1/4 of a lime
1/8 tsp paprika
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
(less if you’re weak — just kidding. But 1/8 tsp will be pretty hot & spicy)
1/8 tsp salt
a few pinches of pepper
mint (optional)

Instructions
  1. Cut watermelon into bite-sized cubes.
  2. Grind together lime zest, paprika, cayenne pepper, salt and pepper using a mortar and pestle, or use the back of a spoon, until it’s a uniform dust.
  3. In a large ziplock bag, add watermelon and lime juice. Shake it up.
  4. In small batches, add dust and shake bag after each addition so that chunks get evenly coated. Repeat until all the dust has been added and watermelon cubes are evenly coated.
  5. Place in refrigerator and allow to sit for 30-60 mins. (This will allow the juices to soak in and the cooler watermelon is more refreshing, in my opinion. However, if you don’t want to wait, by all means go ahead and eat! It’s still very tasty.)
  6. (optional) Top with chopped mint.
  7. Serve!

 
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